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I entered into womanhood in the age of Carrie Bradshaw. Not just her, but Charlotte and Miranda and Samantha (or, as we’ll call her in 2022, She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named). I graduated from college in May 1999 and when I got back home to New York, all anyone could talk about was the ladies of Sex and the City. And soon, when I could finally afford cable, it was all I could talk about too.
But it was more than just talk. In those days, I felt that I was walking in proximity to these slightly older women. They led lives that I imagined I might soon attain. I went to B Bar on the Bowery; they went to B Bar. They wore Manolos; I wore Manolos (that I absolutely could not afford.) We all drank terrible, terrible variations on a classic martini that should just not exist, let alone be offered for a discount at happy hour. And, of course, they almost had it all, but not exactly. And I, starting out in the world, had barely anything but felt everything was within my grasp. Our lives, like our city, were deeply imperfect but brimming with possibilities.
So like many people, despite my trepidations about the relevance of SATC in 2022 New York, I dutifully tuned in to watch the HBO Max reboot And Just Like That… It is a show that has me, and many other viewers, both perplexed and mesmerized. It is not a good show, nor is it a bad show; it’s a curiosity. It’s a little like a face that has had just a tad too much work done: You can’t stop looking at it, but largely to figure out what, exactly, has happened here to make it feel so unnatural.
The attempts to “put a finger” on what’s going on with And Just Like That… have occupied the zeitgeist. The commentary has mainly focused on the series’s strange relationship to reality across the board, from the pandemic to “wokeness” to aging to what to do when one finds a loved one experiencing cardiac arrest.
To be fair, Sex and the City was never a show grounded in realism. It was a show grounded in aspiration, one that put a rosy lens on New York, even in its darkest moments. (I will never forget the Fleet Week episode that brought the show back after 9/11.) It was a flattering mirror that reflected back to us a more sparkling version of the city that we really were.
But the world inhabited in And Just Like That… feels irrelevant and flat—surreally so. Twenty years ago, New York women like myself were deeply invested in how these characters would use friendship to navigate the challenges of life, specifically work, love, and sex. We now find ourselves watching the world’s lowest-stakes poker game being played out in a stunningly gorgeous casino.
What was special about Sex and the City was that it reflected back a technicolor version of the city that we loved, longed for, or aspired to get to, depending on who was watching. By the time I got to episode six, I realized that And Just Like That… hasn’t ceased to do this job; the problem is that the New York it reflects back is simply a far less intriguing place. If Sex and the City was a love letter to the old New York, And Just Like That… is a valentine to the new New York, one where people flip multimillion-dollar riverfront condos because they don’t like the sound of the washing machine and where careers have been eschewed to spend time buying designer children’s clothes for a piano recital. The new New York: where your most interesting friend decides to take off for another city. London! This is a show about New York post-gentrification. If it’s uncomfortable to watch, you can only imagine how strange it is to live through.
Make no mistake: The world of Sex and the City has always been well heeled, filled with Wall Street and benefits and fashion shows. But it was also a world where everyone—except Charlotte—worked hard for their money. Where you might have to publicly grovel to save your business from going under. Where roof roosters and sex workers cause noise disturbances, because it’s a city and there’s noise. Where apartments have mice and people have bad credit and can’t afford to buy their apartments when they go condo. Where you would date waiters and bartenders and artists and musicians.
As New York changed, so did the fortunes of our four friends and their families. The renter became an owner (and the wife of a multimillionaire). The striving publicist became the manager of a Hollywood hunk. The bartender became the bar owner. The lawyer became a partner. The wealthy trust-funder became a married, even wealthier trust-funder. The husbands were lawyers and investment bankers. They moved to the Meatpacking district, to Brooklyn, to full-floor apartments on the Upper East Side.
What we see by the time we catch up with the gang in 2022 is that this trajectory, like that of our city, has continued. The New York of And Just Like That… is not a place where people aspire; it’s a place for people who already have: money, real estate, leisure time. (No one on the show seems to work anymore, which is fascinating but somehow fitting.) It’s also a New York filled with a sense of disposability that seems apt—everything from husbands to apartments to drinking problems can be cast off without a second thought.
If the fictitious world of And Just Like That… feels uninteresting, petty, devoid of soul, and devoid of fun, perhaps it’s time to take a better look at what, exactly, is happening to the real New York this mirror is reflecting back to us.